The Wisconsin men?s basketball team fell one basket short of starting the Big Ten season 3-0. Instead the team had to settle with a 2-1 start, crushing Indiana and Michigan State at home and then traveling to Purdue to lose by two points at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Badgers opened the season 9-2, falling only on the road to Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in an extremely hostile environment, and then to Alabama, where the Badgers were simply out-muscled by the Crimson Tide.
Prior to the season, looking at the Badgers? Big Ten schedule for the first three games things looked a little scary, with the team hosting perennial Big Ten powers Indiana and Michigan State right off the bat, then traveling to one of the loudest, if not the loudest, arenas in the Big Ten, Mackey Arena.
However, against Indiana, what first looked to be one of the toughest games on UW?s schedule turned out to be one of the team?s most lopsided wins as the Badgers cruised to a 34-point victory over the Hoosiers, winning by a score of 79-45.
At halftime the Hoosiers had made only seven field goals and committed seven turnovers on their way to a mere 15 points — the lowest total in the first half by an Indiana team coached by Davis.
Things did not get better in the second half as the Badgers continued to run their swing offense perfectly and held Indiana guard Bracey Wright to a season-low 7 points. Much of the credit goes to Boo Wade, who contained the explosive shooter to 2-for-15 shooting. At the time, Wright was leading the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 22.2 points per game, and said after the game that he struggled more that game than he ever had anytime in his career.
Point guard Devin Harris? 15 points in the game put him over the 1,000-career-point mark, just the 28th player in the history of the program to do so.
After the game, Indiana coach Mike Davis said, ?This is the best I?ve seen them play. If they play like this, they can run the table.?
Four days later, the Badgers hosted the Michigan State Spartans and ESPN?s Dick Vitale for what looked to be another big test in the young season.
The Spartans came out red-hot and jumped out to a 9-0 lead. They made their first eight out of eight shots and at one point were up by 12 points with the score 17-5.
Bo Ryan resisted the urge to call a timeout and watched as his team scored 13 straight points with huge baskets from Ray Nixon and Clayton Hanson.
?The first time I can remember teaching one of my kids to drive a stick shift and, boy, that?s what it sounded like,? Ryan said of the start for his team. ?Just grinding gears and not getting a whole lot done, not going anywhere … and finally we let the clutch out.?
The Badgers did let the clutch out and went into halftime with a 31-21 lead and never trailed again in the game. Wade scored a career-high 15 points in the game, and Harris led all scorers with 21 points en route to the UW?s 77-64 victory, the team?s 22nd consecutive victory at the Kohl Center.
These victories set the stage for what promised to be and in actuality was an intense game between the Boilermakers and Badgers.
A hard-fought first half with both teams playing tough and physical defense ended with the Boilermakers up by four points, 24-20, with neither team scoring any fast-break points and the Badgers not able to get to the line once.
Purdue was up by as many as 11 points in the second half, but UW clawed back into the game, and in the final minutes of the contest, possession became crucial.
Harris hit two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining to put the Badgers within 1 point as the Boilermakers still led 52-51. The Badgers were then forced to foul again, and Purdue guard Austin Parkinson made one of his two free throws to give his team a 2-point lead with 4.4 seconds remaining; leaving the Badgers with one last shot for the victory.
The ball ended up in none other than the hands of Harris, who had time to release a shot that rattled off the rim, giving Purdue?s Gene Keady his 500th career win at Purdue.
?Once it left my hand I thought it was a little bit right,? Harris said. ?It still had a chance. I just know that it didn?t come off the two fingers that I wanted it to.?
The 53-51 loss extended the Badgers? losing streak at Mackey Arena to 29 games, the second-longest road losing streak for a conference team at an opponent?s arena.
The Badgers (11-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) won?t have much time to think about their loss as they host a talented Michigan at home Wednesday and Illinois Saturday. The Illini have already dropped two Big Ten games to Purdue and Northwestern.
The team?s outlook still remains promising, but the Badgers will have to start proving they can win on the road if they want to earn that elusive three-peat in Big Ten Championships.